NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission is on its way to the Red Planet to search for signs of ancient life and collect samples to send back to Earth.
Humanity's most sophisticated rover launched with the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at 7:50 a.m. EDT (4:50 a.m. PDT) Thursday on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
"With the launch of Perseverance, we begin another historic mission of exploration," says NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "This amazing explorer's journey has already required the very best from all of us to get it to launch through these challenging times. Now we can look forward to its incredible science and to bringing samples of Mars home even as we advance human missions to the Red Planet. As a mission, as an agency, and as a country, we will persevere."
The Perseverance rover's astrobiology mission is to seek out signs of past microscopic life on Mars, explore the diverse geology of its landing site, Jezero Crater, and demonstrate key technologies that will help us prepare for future robotic and human exploration.
"Perseverance is the most capable rover in history because it is standing on the shoulders of our pioneers Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity," says Michael Watkins, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech, built and will manage operations of the Mars Perseverance rover.
There are seven instruments aboard Perseverance, most of which are geared toward learning more about the planet's geology and astrobiology. However, the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instrument is focused on missions yet to come. Designed to demonstrate that converting Martian carbon dioxide into oxygen is possible, it could lead to future versions of MOXIE technology that become staples on Mars missions, providing oxygen for rocket fuel and breathable air.
Also future-leaning is the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which will remain attached to the belly of Perseverance for the flight to Mars and the first 60 or so days on the surface. A technology demonstrator, Ingenuity's goal is a pure flight test—it carries no science instruments.
Over 30 sols (31 Earth days), the helicopter will attempt up to five powered, controlled flights. The data acquired during these flight tests will help the next generation of Mars helicopters provide an aerial dimension to Mars explorations—potentially scouting for rovers and human crews, transporting small payloads, or investigating difficult-to-reach destinations.
The rover's technologies for entry, descent, and landing also will provide information to advance future human missions to Mars.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of America's larger Moon to Mars exploration approach that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with sending the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA's Artemis program. Ken Farley, W. M. Keck Foundation Professor of Geochemistry and former chair of Caltech's Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences (GPS), is the mission's project scientist.
"It was an incredible relief to see the rocket engines start to fire. Getting the spacecraft over the finish line in the time of COVID has been a challenge, one that at times I feared we would not overcome," Farley says. "So now the team can breathe a little easier, at least until Feb 18, 2021 when landing commences!"
Read the full story at JPL News.